In the case of a place-name, often quite a lot.
Many of the names we use today for familiar places derive, more or less
directly, from the names given to them by the some of the early settlers.
From details of the language and form of the names, deductions can be made
about who these people were and when they came.
Thus, many of the names for places in our area, such as Wrington,
originated in the dark ages from British and Saxon roots. However, these
derivations are often ambiguous and easily confused. Nowhere is this more
in evidence than with the name "Redhill".
The standard reference on this subject is The Concise Oxford Dictionary of
English Place-names, by the Swedish scholar Eilert Ekwall, which was first
published in 1936 (4th Edition, 1960). The following entry is unchanged
Redhill, Regilbury So (Ragiol DB, Ragel 1193, Ragelbiri, Rachelburi c1200
Flaxley, Rachel 1254 Ass, Raggell 1289 FF). The first el. may be OE ra-ecg
"roe hill", the second being OE hol (hollow) or hyll (hill).
The trouble with dictionaries is that they tend to be taken as gospel and
the trouble with place-names is that their likely origins are matters of
judgement on which opinions may vary and do evolve in the light of new
So a dictionary of place-names is a perilous enterprise. I suspect that
Professor Ekwall had no knowledge of Regil (or Ridgehill), just three miles
from our Redhill. And I have no doubt that it is Regil and not Redhill
that is the site of the Domesday manor of Ragiol.
Unfortunately, in the more recent A Dictionary of English Place-Names
(Oxford, 1991), which has updated and condensed Ekwall, A. D. Mills has
implied otherwise. There we read:
Redhill, Avon. Ragiol 1086 (db). Possibly 'hill at roe-deer edge'
For me, the place is wrong and the derivation unconvincing - and certainly
deserving of further investigation.
The earliest record of the name Redhill referring to our hamlet that I have
found is on Day & Masters map of Somerset of 1782.
If any reader knows of any earlier references, I would be very grateful to
hear of them. Likewise, any information on the early forms or origins of
the names of farms, fields, streams or springs would be of great interest.